Oslo: Three suspected al Qaeda members were arrested on Thursday morning in what Norwegian and US officials said was a terrorist plot linked to similar plans in New York and England.
The three men, whose names were not released, had been under surveillance for more than a year. Officials believe they were planning attacks with portable but powerful bombs like the ones at the heart of last year`s thwarted suicide attack in the New York City subway.
US Attorney General Eric Holder has called that one of the most serious terrorist plots since 9/11. On Wednesday, prosecutors revealed the existence of a related plot in Manchester, England. Officials believe the Norway plan was organised by the same top-level al Qaeda officials in charge of planning worldwide attacks.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the case. The Norwegian Police Security Service said only that the three were arrested on suspicion of "preparing terror activities”.
A news conference was planned for later Thursday.
Officials said it was not clear the men had selected a target for the attacks but they were attempting to make peroxide bombs, the powerful homemade explosives that prosecutors say were attempted in both New York and England.
US and Norwegian counterterrorism officials worked closely together to unravel the Norwegian plot, officials said. Janne Kristiansen, the head of the Police Security Service, travelled to the US this spring to discuss some of the closely held intelligence that been gathered in the case.
In Washington, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd had no comment.
Officials did not say why Norway was a target, but al Qaeda No 2 Ayman al-Zawahri has called for attacks on Norway, among other countries.
Magnus Norell, a terrorism expert at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, said Norway`s 500 troops in Afghanistan could be a factor, as could the 2006 controversy sparked by a Danish newspaper`s publication of 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Norell said the controversy has extended to neighbouring Norway and Sweden after newspapers there republished the cartoons and later published similar cartoons. Images of Muhammad, even favourable ones, are considered blasphemous by many Muslims.